How Not to Have a Conversation: A Response to the Kentucky Family Foundation
April 27, 2011 § 3 Comments
The Kentucky Family Foundation posted a commentary yesterday on its blog, taking Douglass Boulevard Christian Church to task for what the KFF considers an attempt by the church to curry favor with the “intellectual elites.” And while I have indicated my belief that the most importat part of this issue centers on embodying Christ’s justice rather than on arguing about it, I find it necessary to clarify certain matters of contention raised by the author at the KFF.
The Family Foundation will comment only briefly on the relative insignificance of this act since the church itself is comprised of only 80-120 members and caters to an explicitly liberal social agenda.
As I read this portion of the KFF commentary, a couple of things occur to me. First, I am struck once again by the dismissive nature of the comments about DBCC’s size. The reference to the church’s size serves no substantive purpose in support of the author’s argument, other than to draw attention to the superior position of influence from which s/he speaks. I feel certain that everyone who reads the article realizes the cultural prominence of KFF relative to the modest community at Douglass Boulevard Christian Church. Naming this disparity in size and influence, however, fails to advance the discussion, but serves merely as a form of rhetorical jockeying for advantage.
Second, it seems important to me to address the charge of catering “to an explicitly liberal social agenda”–as if the author has opted out of the “social agenda” catering business, and is seeking only to speak from some neutral ground beholden to no “social agenda.” I enter into this conversation with the assumption that KFF, while occupying its own particular set of theological and political positions, makes its case from a set of convictions that rise above pure approval-seeking from a constituency with a decidedly different “social agenda” from the one to which DBCC is supposedly indebted. In other words–and though I strongly disagree with many of their conclusions–I think they believe they are doing what God would have them do to be faithful. Consequently, it seems somehow troubling to me that the work undertaken by Douglass Boulevard Christian Church fails to receive the same good faith respect from the author.
The fact remains, however, that actions taken by Douglass Boulevard and others like it, represent a diminishing voice in Christianity. Liberal churches—those that reject biblical authority—eventually wither because the very essence of their existence—Christ and obedience to his commands—becomes sidelined for what are perceived to be more important social agendas.
Whether liberal Christianity is a “diminishing voice in Christianity” is, as I have said in the past, an observation of correlation, not an argument about causation. Notwithstanding that questionable contention, however, I want to challenge the assertion the author makes that Liberal churches “reject biblical authority” and “eventually whither because” they place “Christ and obedience to his commands” on the sidelines, in favor of “what are perceived to be more important social agendas.” First, and most obviously, let me ask what commandment of Christ that Douglass Boulevard is supposed to have disobeyed by our recent action? Since Jesus never explicitly addresses homosexuality, I’m not sure I see the way the author is connecting the dots. (In a side note, let me be quick to mention that Jesus had a lot more to say about how the politically and theologically powerful use their resources at the expense of the powerless than he ever had to say about sexuality–in any form.)
Which assertion leads me to my next thought: What DBCC set out to do by its action in favor of treating LGBTQ people and heterosexual people the same–far from trying to figure out a way to circumvent the difficult demands placed upon the followers of Jesus–was, in fact, an attempt faithfully to emulate the kind of lovingkindness and commitment to equitable social arrangements Jesus himself displayed. That is to say, since Jesus did not give us explicit instructions about this issue (and neither, I would argue, did the epistles), we have tried to envision how the love of Jesus might be embodied by our community in our current cultural context. Our purpose, therefore, was not to disobey Jesus, but to find radically expansive new ways of living that honor the Jesus we find in the Gospels. So, whatever “social agenda” we pursue, whether it correlates to some other “social agenda” or not, is unintelligible to us apart from Jesus. Consequently, the allegation that Douglass Boulevard Christian Church displays “ecclesial hostility towards [sic] Scripture” misses the point entirely from our perspective. We do what we do because we think it is the most faithful rendering of scripture for the world in which we live–not a denial of it.
In recent days, the pastor of Douglass Boulevard has offered a theological and personal justification for the position adopted by the church. But the justification offered reduces to facile explanations aimed at jettisoning Christian teaching on human sexuality. His rebuttals to Christian teaching against homosexuality are built upon straw-man arguments and lack serious exegesis. In addition, his arguments are unoriginal and are not respected by serious biblical scholars. But exegesis and rebuttal will not matter when personal volition and Maslow’s self-actualization become more important than Christ and his commands.
As to my “theological and personal justifications for the position adopted by the church,” they were an attempt on my part to enter into conversation with people who approached me because either they did not agree or did not understand why I believe what I believe about LGBTQ people and their acceptance by God. My essay was more narrative than exegesis, because my intent was not to hammer my interlocutor into intellectual and spiritual submission, but to extend a serious conversation. That my “arguments are unoriginal” and “not respected by serious scholars” –which, I think, is another assertion in search of an argument–I’ll leave to someone else to decide. I will make this observation, though, that the post by KFF seemed less like a conversation between brothers and sisters who disagree than like the combat waged against a mortal enemy. Some clarification on that front would be I think, helpful.
The truth is that the actions taken by Douglass Boulevard are not prophetic, but a testament to the capitulating spirit that follows from abandoning the clear instruction and teaching of Scripture. In championing liberal theology, Douglass Boulevard is allying itself with a rogue strand of Christian theology that retains neither orthodoxy nor longevity.
Admittedly, it would be an enviable accomplishment for the folks at KFF if they were to be in possession of “the truth” about “the actions taken by Douglass Boulevard.” However, according to the Christian tradition DBCC is supposed to have abandoned, the discernment of truth is a communal achievement, drawing upon the often uncomfortable diversity of the broader church–much of which it appears sadly, in this case, has been written off before a conversation has even begun.